Tag Archives: Faith

REVISITED: The Inner Skeptic

Read Psalm 14

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering.” (Jude 1:22)

chirrut-imwe-and-jyn-erso

Everyone knows that I am a HUGE fan of Star Wars. Recently, the latest film in the Star Wars Universe was released, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”. The film follows a series of mostly new characters who are on a mission to get the blueprint plans of “The Death Star” from the evil Galactic Empire. If they succeed, it is possible that they can find a weakness that will help them destroy a weapon so powerful that it can eliminate entire planets in a matter of seconds.

Without spoiling the story for you (as I run a strict, no spoiler, ship), the characters of Jyn and Cassian are the unlikely leaders of a slim-to-none chance to infiltrate the enemy base and steal the plans of the dreaded battle station, “The Death Star.” All throughout the film, the characters are constantly being tested in their abilities, in their trust of one another, and in their faith.

In fact, wrestling with faith is a MAJOR theme in this film. Each of the characters, in their own way, find themselves wrestling with their faith in the existence of the force. One of the characters, Chirrut Îmwe, is a member of the Guardian of the Whills, which is a religious order that at one time were protectors of the Temple. Following the Temple being raided by the Galactic Empire, the Guardians remained true to their beliefs and sat out in the streets preaching about the Force.

What’s important to note is that thought the age of the Jedi and their use of the force, are not far removed from the time period that this takes place, many question the existence of such a “Force”. The Jedi themselves are quickly fading into mythological obscurity. How quickly hope fades, how quickly people fall from faith into the hopless state of despair. This is, honestly, the human condition.

When Jyn runs into Chirrut, he asked her if she knew what she was wearing around her neck. The crystals she was wearing were what the Empire had come to the Temple to raid, they were what powered the lightsabers. Chirrut sees it as a sign that the Force was alive and well. In fact, throughout the film, this monk kept reciting a powerful mantra, “I am one with the Force,  the Force is with me.”

Throughout the film, there are many skeptics who question this monk’s devotion to what they see as nothing more than a fairytale. Yet, his unwavering faith to the Force witnesses to these people and causes them to see beyond the inner skeptic within them. One by one, each of them is confronted with the choice between placing their faith in the Force or in continuing to deny the Force that is within them and all around them.

What I want to make clear is this, today’s Scripture is NOT calling the one who wrestles with his/her faith a fool. Everyone should be wrestling with their faith in God. It is was makes that faith real and it is how one grows in faith; however, the Scripture is stating that the one who concludes, absolutely and definitively that THERE IS NO GOD is foolish. Such an absolute proclamation leads nowhere but placing oneself in the place of God.

To make that proclamation is to shut oneself off from the discovery of the divine. There is not a single human being that can definitively know Ultimate Reality and, therefore, it is ultimately foolish for them to shut themselves off to the possibility of God based off of whatever limited “evidence” they may think they have. Not one of us can possibly have ALL of the evidence to make any conclusive and definitive proclamation.

We all operate on faith. We operate on the faith that there is a God or we operate on the faith that there is no God. Skepticism is good and healthy; however, it only gets us so far. The question for us is this, can we silence the  inner skeptic? Can we get to the place where we move beyond skepticism and acknowledge the faith that we are already operating on? If so, we can continue to wrestle with our faith and grow in it. I pray that, if you are struggling with your faith, this devotion may be your inner Chirrut Îmwe, reminding you that you are one with the Force (aka God) and that the Force/God is with you. I pray that you choose to move beyond faith in “no God” to faith in the God who is wanting to work miracles in you and through you.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

PRAYER
Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief. Amen.

Even If It Cannot Be Known

Read Mark 8:27-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

In 2022, Amazon Prime Video came out with an original series called, The Rings of Power, based off of J .R. R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion and Appendices, which map out the history of his beloved Middle Earth and how the evil we see in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings came to be.

Anyone who know me knows my love of Tolkien and his Middle Earth. I have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and I am planning on reading the Silmarillion as well; so, when I learned this series was going to be released, I was sure to watch it and, of course, I LOVED IT.

The next several devotions I will be writing on certain nuggets of wisdom that I found to be profound in the series. No worries, I won’t spoil anything. Today’s devotion takes place aboard a ship in Middle Earth. This is the ship of the Queen Regent Míriel of Númenor, the kingdom of men on the island originally called Elenna, which was brought up out of the sea by the Valar, mighty beings who were called the Holy Ones and came out of the thoughts of Eru Ilúvatar, the god of Arda.

All those names need not mean anything to you, but they are important to the history of Middle Earth. Now, back to the Queen Regent. She is alone with her captain, Elendil. She can see the pain and anguish in his eyes. Without going into detail, he had suffered great loss in the battle to fight the evil leader Adar (who was created for this show and was never in the books) and his army of orcs and Uruks.

The Queen Regent too had suffered great loss and she is looking at her seemingly broken captain with compassion and regret. She tells him that she would understand if Elendil decided to retire following their return to Númenor. The Queen Regent Míriel had brought them into this fight with the hope that she could fight Adar in Middle Earth, across the sea from her homeland of Númenor, with the hopes of establishing Númenor once again in Middle-Earth. The truth is, in the First Age, the race of men was defeated by Morgoth and Sauron, and they fled middle earth and reestablished Númenor on the Island of Elenna. The Queen Regent, after much deliberation, came to the decision to act and save the people of Middle Earth from the great evil that Adar was spreading through the land.

In this scene I mention on the ship, though, they realize that they have not one and all seems lost; however, with that said, the Queen Regent’s knows the fight is not over, but has just begun. Elendil, following Míriel’s kind and compassionate words, tells her that he is not looking to quit, and that everything he has done to that point was done intentionally, though he never imagined it would lead to the situation they were currently in.

In her wisdom, Queen Regent Míriel tells him the following: “My father once told me that the way of the faithful is committing to pay the price, even if the cost cannot be known and trusting in the end it will be worth it.” Elendil followed with, “Sometimes the cost is dear.” The Queen Regent acknowledged, “It is.” After a pause, Elendil nodded, “Then the only choice we have is to keep serving.” Amen.

That is the way of the faithful. They sign up because they think it will be easy, a smooth ride if you will. They don’t give up because the times have gotten tough. They endure even though they did not know what the cost would be and they know that, no matter the cost, the mission is too important to abandon. In other words, they are willing to keep paying the cost until they have completed what was needed to be done.

Jesus calls us to THAT kind of faith too. The fact is that Jesus demanded of his followers that they deny themselves…in other words, that they turn away from their own selfish desires and will. Jesus demanded that they deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow him. In other words, prepare to be willing to die in order to preach the Good News, because the world is not going to like it and who knows what in the end discipleship will cost? It could even cost one her or his life.

Are you walking the way of the faithful? Are you willing to? There’s no telling where journey will take you; however, we know where the destination is: The Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven. Let us reflect on Queen Regent Míriel’s wisdom and take it to heart, for as Jesus said, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Too many Christians have a commitment of convenience. They’ll stay faithful as long as it’s safe and doesn’t involve risk, rejection, or criticism. Instead of standing alone in the face of challenge or temptation, they check to see which way their friends are going.” – Rev. Dr. Charles Stanley

PRAYER
Lord, lead me down the narrow hard path. Though I know not the cost, I commit my life to be in service of you. Amen.

REVISITED: WORKS OF THE FLESH: Envy

Read Galatians 5:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“[Jesus] instructed [the twelve disciples] to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick—no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts.” (Mark 6:8 CEB)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

fieryE

WORKS OF THE FLESH: Envy. If there was a universal vice, if there was a weakness that all people could claim in some fashion or the other, I think envy would have to be it. I don’t like to generalize, and perhaps there is someone out there who could claim never being envious of someone else, most of us have been envious of someone or of something at some point in our lives. I can remember growing up in a house that had no air conditioning and had no shower. All of my other friends had air conditioning and showers, but NOT MY HOUSE! I remember asking my parents why we couldn’t have a shower or an air conditioner and I remember them responding, “Be happy for what you do have.” Yes, I have experienced envy in the past and usually over things that were small and trivial. My mom was always keen on saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

While I didn’t like those sayings, the reason I didn’t like them was because they were true. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, the grass is always greener in someone else’s pasture, until you have what they have and then that grass seems to dry up and wilt. There is no end to this cycle. I want something until I have it and then I am not happy with what I have and I want something else. Every parent knows this cycle as their children have no doubt told them ALL of the things their friends have that they don’t have.

While that sort of behavior is expected in children, however, it is also found in the church. In fact, it is a work of the flesh that is prevalent in the church. Oh how we wish we were that church over their with the 10,000 person membership, raking in the millions upon millions of dollars per year! Oh, my, what we could do with all of those resources. Just think of the ministry that could be done if we had that big church campus, or that basketball court, or that hip pastor in the tight jeans, or if we had a jumbotron screen and a rocking praise band! These sentiments and more come from tons of congregations. What it implies is that, God blesses those people but has been rather cheap and stingy with us!

So let’s look at Jesus’ ministry. He started alone, picked up twelve disciples, then picked up hundreds…then thousands…of followers, then lost those followers, got arrested, was back to twelve disciples (two of whom either betrayed or denied him), and only one male disciple and a couple female disciples showed up at the foot of the cross. Jesus’ ministry was nothing to be envious of, there was no jumbotron, no cool and hip praise band, no steady cash flow, no mega church campus or anything else. His ministry was poor monetarily…but it was profoundly rich in many other ways. Remember, we are to model ourselves off of Christ, to not envy others as if we have nothing, and to be thankful for what we do have. And what is that? The Good News of God’s love for us through Jesus Christ our Lord. And that is all we, as the church, truly need! Now go and preach it!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.” – Paul of Tarsus in his letter to the church in Philippi (Philippians 4:12-13, CEB)

PRAYER
Lord, help to be content in all things so that I may glorify you through what I have. Amen.

REVISITED: Doubting Thomas

Read John 20:24-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find Me.’” (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NLT)

The Tomb of St. Thomas. Mylapore, India.

Do you remember learning about the twelve disciples in Sunday school? To be honest, I don’t remember learning about the twelve disciples. I remember learning about the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Only two of them were were named after one of Jesus’ disciples. I remember learning about Peter and Andrew as well as John and James. They were the two pairs of fisherman in the group. There was Matthew (formerly known as Levi the tax collector) and Phillip (though I am not sure what he did prior to joining Jesus). And, of course, there was Judas Iscariot. Everyone knows Judas as he is the disciple who infamously betrayed Jesus with a Kiss.

The other disciples are largely skipped over and not taught about, in my experience, with the exception of one: Doubting Thomas. He was the guy who is infamously known for his doubt. Ironically, Thomas is only shown in one Gospel to portray that “doubt”, and only in one place. What’s more, that Gospel, John, was the last of the Gospel’s to be written and does not follow the same format or chronological timetable that the other three (Synoptic) Gospels follow. Thomas is seen in John 20:24-29 as not believing the other disciples when they tell him that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas says, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in His hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in His side.”

As a result, Thomas has forever gone down in history as the guy who DOUBTED the resurrection. Jesus chastises him following his sudden change of heart upon seeing the risen Christ: “You believe because you have seen Me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing Me” (John 20:29). Poor Thomas, upon seeing Christ, had let go of his doubt and chose to believe, only to receive a cold shoulder from “[his] Lord and [his] God” (John 20:28). It’s as if Christ is saying, to all believers everywhere, “Do NOT doubt. For if you doubt your faith, in the end, is worth less than those who believe in me without doubting.”

For many people, these words have been a stumbling block to faith. To be fair to the text, they were meant to encourage people who had not been eyewitnesses to the resurrection to continue believing even though they had not seen; however, since then, they have become words of admonishment for those who DARE question the veracity of the resurrection, let alone any other matter of faith. The clear message that is taught to children in Sunday school is, shut down your questions lest you be found to be like doubting Thomas. Unfortunately, that fearful message has hindered the growth of many people who have suppressed the urge to question.

Yet, people fail to realize where Thomas’ “doubt” led him. He may or may not have questioned the resurrection; however, he did, without question, find himself in India preaching the Good News of his resurrected Lord. It is there, thousands of miles away from home, that he was martyred for Jesus and it is there, in Mylapore India, that his body lays at rest. Thomas’ doubt led him to be grow into a great proclaimer of the hope, healing and wholeness of his risen Lord and Savior.

Don’t let fear stop you from questioning and, even, from doubting. Doubt is neither good nor bad. It exists whether we want it to or not. Even as a pastor, I doubt. It is not doubt that is bad, but what we do or don’t do with it. Embrace your doubt, ask the tough questions, and allow the risen Christ to appear to you. Then it will be come REAL for you and you will grow in leaps and bounds in your faith. Christ does not admonish you for your doubts; rather, he calls you to embrace them, rise above them, and grow beyond them!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise.” – William Shakespeare

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to not deny my doubts, but to rise up and grow as a result of, and in spite of, them. Amen.

SON OF GOD: Holy Saturday

Read Matthew 27:62-66

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“’Go out and stand before Me on the mountain,’ the LORD told him. And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” (1 Kings 19:11-13a NLT)

Jesus in the Tomb

Today is Holy Saturday, which is the day in between Jesus’ death and his resurrection. It is on this day that his disciples sat in hiding. It is on this day that the uncertainty of death hung over them like a shroud, clouding them with the fear of the unknown and paralyzing them in that fear. They had followed Jesus for three long years and had invested all of their hopes and expectations in him. Now he was dead, gone, and the silence of the tomb echoed in their psyche about as loudly as a shrill scream in the night.

On the flip side, the powers that be that opposed Jesus were scrambling to keep the silence from becoming to uncertain. Caiaphas and other religious leaders were holding a meeting with the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, regarding what they were going to do with this dead trouble maker named Jesus. The religious leaders were claiming that his disciples might come and snatch the body in order to make false claims about some sort of bodily resurrection. Out of fear that the body might disappear, they all decided that it would be best if guards were posted at the tomb to ensure that nothing happened to the body.” These men, too, were disturbed by the silence of the tomb, for they were afraid it might remain silent. So they did everything they could to ensure that it would.

The silence of death and the tomb affects each of us in many different ways. It seems so final, yet so uncertain, and we are left feeling not only loss by a sense of hopelessness. And I need not be talking about the physical death of any one person, but death in the broader sense. Throughout life, aspects of our lives die off. We come to identify ourselves one way, or another, and for a season that identification endures; however, there comes a point when that identity, that aspect, that part of us dies off and we are with a tremendous sense of loss and of fear. Who are we? How do we respond to this particular loss? Do we, like the disciples, hide in the shadows afraid of what lies next? Or do we, like the religious and political leaders of Jesus’ day, place guard over the tomb to make sure nothing is out of our control?

Both of the above questions are pathways that we can take? Both seek to hang onto whatever control we have left. Paralysis and overreaction are on the opposite side of the same coin of control. However, there is a third option. We need not hide in the shadows or overreact in some outlandish way or through some sort of crazy power grab; rather, we have the option of letting go. We have the option of allowing the silence of the tomb to speak for itself. We have the option of letting go of control and allowing God to work resurrection in our lives. The reality is that no matter what we do, whether we hide in the shadows or stand guard over the tomb, that stone will be bursting forth with or without us. The question is not “if”, but “when.” When the Son of God sparks resurrection in your life, will be open to it or will you let it pass you by? The silence of the tomb gives you ample time to reflect on that very question. May that reflection be rich in the darkness and the silence of the tomb.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” – Steve Jobs

PRAYER
Lord, prepare me for the death in life, and for the death of life, for I know that all ends are the beginnings of something new. Amen.

REVISITED: Two Simple Questions

Read Matthew 16:13-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“[Jesus] asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’” (Mark 8:29)

manquestioningOver the years I have been in ministry, I have developed a curriculum for teaching youth who are looking to be confirmed into the Christian faith. I feel that Christianity, particularly Protestant Christianity, has become rather lax in its education of confirmands and people in general. So, I took on the task of developing a curriculum that would educate those seeking confirmation so that in the end they knew why they were being confirmed and that they, indeed, wished to be confirmed into the Christian faith.

The curriculum started off with the history of Christianity, starting with Jesus of Nazareth and ending at our present age. And I didn’t just present the sugar-coated, Sunday School “history”, but a ten week study of the real history behind Christianity. Then I taught them the doctrinal and theological positions of our particular denomination, as well as its polity (or structure).

At the very outset of the class I assigned a paper to be written. I actually assigned two papers, but for the sake of this devotion, I will cover one of them. The paper I assigned was one that I actually had to write in seminary and I found it to be such a rewarding exercise that I included it in my confirmation curriculum. The questions I asked each of the students to answer are the following: “Who do people say that Jesus is?” and “Who do you say that Jesus is?”

These are the very questions that Jesus asked his disciples. They are very pointed and very important questions for anyone who places their faith in Christ to answer. None of us have grown up in a bubble. We have all learned who Jesus is from various sources. From reading the Bible, to Sunday School, to Church, to what we’ve gathered about him from our family and friends. All of those sources have helped shape our understanding of who Jesus is. And so the first question should be a fairly easy one for us to answer.

The second question, however, is one that forces us to go beyond what we’ve heard and learned about Jesus. I forces us to search our soul and our own personal experiences. It forces us to reflect on how we’ve experienced Jesus in our lives. How has he been revealed to us personally? How has he influenced our lives? How has he communicated with us? The apostles didn’t just hear things and learn things about Jesus. They knew him personally. They walked with him, asked him questions, and followed him. They witnessed him after the resurrection.

If we claim Christianity as our faith, if we believe in Christ, there has to be a reason why. Is the reason merely based off of second or third or fourth hand information passed down to you? Is it because you feel you have to believe it? If that is the case, then perhaps it isn’t belief at all. Surely, somewhere along the line you have experienced the presence of Christ in your life. Somewhere along the line you have been transformed by the presence the love of Christ.

Today’s challenge is for you to seriously reflect on the above two questions. Who do people say Christ is and who do you say Christ is? Take the time to sit, meditate and seriously reflect on who Christ is to you and why you believe the way you do. It is not an easy process, but it is certainly a rewarding one. As you grow your beliefs will adapt and grow as well. So make this exercise a part of your faith journey this Lent and beyond. Every so often revisit these questions and really see how God is working in your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.” – Billy Graham

PRAYER

Lord, as I continue to walk in your light, illumine me. As I continue to seek your way, strengthen me. As I continue to grow in my faith, reveal yourself to me. Amen.

March 2, 2022 – Newton UMC – Ecumenical Ash Wednesday Service

Worship service streams live at 7:30 p.m. EST (-500 GMT)

Welcome to our Ecumenical Ash Wednesday Service on Wed., March 2, 2022, hosted by First United Methodist Church of Newton, along with First Presbyterian Church of Newton. Today we learn that we partner in Jesus’ suffering so that we may better see the experience of those who suffer daily and work with them for lasting justice.

Please support us by giving online: https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc. Tonight’s collection will go to support local mission. To make sure your gift is included in tonight’s offering, please write Ash Wednesday in the memo of whatever platform you pay on, as well as on checks that are being written, which can me made out and mailed to First UMC of Newton, 111 Ryerson Ave., Newton, NJ 07860.

God bless you all for your generosity.

February 27, 2022 – Newton UMC – Sunday Worship Live Stream

JOY Fellowship Service: 9 a.m.

Our 9:00 service will not live stream on YouTube today due to technical difficulties. We are working to get this service up and running as soon as possible. Please check out our Traditional Service.

Traditional Service: 10:30 a.m.

Worship service streams live at 10:30 a.m. EST (-500 GMT)

Welcome to our Traditional Worship Service for February 27. Today we learn that closeness to God is NOT the same as “doing good”; rather, any good we do is because of God and our closeness to Him.

Please support us by giving online: https://tithe.ly/give?c=1377216 or https://paypal.me/newtonumc Your support is vital, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. You can also write and mail a check to First UMC of Newton, 111 Ryerson Ave., Newton, NJ 07860.

If you are from another church that is not able to host online worship, we would strongly encourage you give to YOUR church and support them. They no doubt need that support as much as we do. God bless you all for your generosity.

A LOOK BACK: To Wrestle and Prevail

Read Genesis 32:22-32

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NRSV)

jacob13

Questioning is a huge part of what it means to be human. We as human beings have been given the ability to think for ourselves, to know good from evil, to create, to name, and to care for other things. We have been given the vision of what paradise is, of what it means to live in harmony with all of creation, and we have also been forced to recognize that reality is often times much different than our vision of utopia. It is in those moments that we find ourselves questioning ourselves, questioning humanity, questioning the created order and, most importantly, questioning our Creator.

This is especially true when we are going through our own trials. When we find that we are losing control over different aspects of our lives, or when we come to the realization that we were never in control to begin with, we find that we start to question God. When we lose our wealth, when we our loved ones, when we lose our health, when we lose our independence, when we suffer loss in any sense, we can’t help but cry out to God and question why these things are happening. What’s more, we often get angry at God and, in the process, begin to feel guilt over our anger, over our doubt, over our questioning.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we read of a man named Jacob who had stolen his brother’s birthright many years earlier and he was on his way back home to try and make amends with his brother who wanted to kill him…literally. One night, while on his way back to his homeland to meet his angry brother, a man suddenly wrestles with Jacob. We aren’t told who this man was and one can assume that Jacob had no clue who he was either. The two wrestle each other all night long and, in the end, Jacob wins the wrestling match. Realizing that Jacob had won the other man strikes him on his hip, which leaves Jacob permanently injured. Still, Jacob did not let go of the man and refused to do so until the man blessed him.

Perhaps Jacob thought the man was his brother Esau, after all, it was dark and the man happened upon him suddenly.  Regardless, the man ends up relenting and giving Jacob his blessing. After that, Jacob lets the man go and he names the place Peniel, which means, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” For whatever reason, Jacob came to the realization that the man was God, and that he had wrestled with God. Upon this revelation, God renames Jacob Israel because he had wrestled with God and prevailed.

I tell this story for all who feel guilty for wrestling with God. For all who have questioned and for all who have found themselves angry with God, take heart! You are not alone. God has big shoulders and can take our questions. God knows our hearts and understands our anger. God blesses us when we wrestle with God, because that means we are in relationship with God. We weren’t created to be mindless drones; rather, we were created to be a relationally engaged people. Who doesn’t struggle in relationships? That’s the very nature of them.

Take heart, be confident, and know that God does love you and that God does give you the space to wrestle! God has blessed you with the ability to question, to think freely, and to wrestle with God when we don’t understand why things are as they are. In fact, it is in that relational wrestling match that we will find that God has richly blessed us with a renewed assurance of our identity in our Creator, and of our Creator’s identity in us. For all who have indeed wrestled with God, stand up tall and thank God for such an awesome opportunity.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.” – Marcus Aurelius

PRAYER
Lord, you know my heart and you know that I have struggled and even wrestled with you. I thank you for having broad shoulders and for giving me the opportunity to wrestle and, more importantly, to be in relationship with you. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 6: Abraham

Read Genesis 12:10-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.” (Galatians‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭NLT)‬‬‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 6, Abraham. Even if one has never been in a church, or sat in a Sunday school class, he or she most likely knows exactly who Abraham is. He is known as the father of three of the worlds major religions, all three of those religions being the largest in the world. He is also the father of the three religions that have had the most impact on the development of the world. So, it is pretty hard to live in this world and NOT know who Abraham is.

If you were to randomly ask who Abraham was, you might get “the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.” Or, you might get “the old guy who had a child.” Or, still, you might get “the guy who took his child up on a mountain to sacrifice him because God told him to” (more on this later). Of course, you most likely would get “a person of tremendous faith.”

All of the above are true; however, the fact is that Abraham got things wrong far more often than he got things right. While he may have had faith when it came to following God’s call to leave his homeland behind, he did not have faith enough to not sleep with Hagar in order to have a male heir. His faithfulness to God was limited by his inability to remain faithful to Sarah. I am not even referring to the fact that he had sexual relations with another woman, but that he was so willing to give his wife over to be the sexual property of kings in order to save his own hide.

On top of all that, Abraham had such a faith in God that he was willing to do something that is so horrific, so unimaginable that, it is hard to justify no matter what one’s theology is. When Abraham is told by God, according to the story, to sacrifice his son Isaac on top of a mountain, Abraham does exactly what he is told, without even questioning.. He does not let Sarah know, for obvious reasons, but he takes his son and has him carry the wood to his place of death.

The whole time, Isaac is walking alongside of his dad thinking that they are on their way to sacrifice a lamb. He even asks his dad, “where will we get a lamb, dad?” Abraham responds, “The LORD will provide us one.” Nice, right? He’s leading his own son to the slaugther and Isaac is completely unaware that his dad, the one who is supposed to love and protect him, is about to butcher him with a knife and burn his flesh to appease God.

It truly is one of the most horrific stories in all of the Bible. It’s easy for us to glaze over the fact that he’s about to murder his son, and focus on the faith he was displaying to do so; however, would any of us think the same thing if a modern father attempted to murder his own son because he heard God’s voice telling him to? When Abraham hears that the city that his nephew was living in is going to be destroyed, he argues with God over it and gets God to agree to spare his nephew’s life. If he could do that for his nephew, why didn’t he do that for his own son? He had faith in God, sure, but he clearly was lacking in any sort of understanding of God’s character: LOVE. Otherwise, he would have surely questioned God on the command to sacrifice his son. Thank goodness that God put a stop to it before Abraham could carry the murderous act all the way through to its grizzly conclusion.

I could go on and on regarding the serious flaws that can be found in Abraham, but to mention all his flaws is beside the point. After all, we are all flawed, are we not? Despite his flaws and shortcomings, God saw the heart of Abraham. While he often failed to perfectly live up to God’s standard, his heart never waivered in trying. He strived to follow a God. Even though he could not see God, he knew God was present with him. Because of that, Abraham was open hearing God’s voice, and he followed it to the best of his ability. That is all that God asks of us as well. While we might not always be faithful, God is ALWAYS FAITHFUL. All God asks in return is for us to open ourselves up to the direction of the Holy Spirit and to trust that, no matter what our flaws are, God’s grace is sufficient and is sufficiently working Salvation in us and through us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

While God would never ask us to sacrifice our children to “prove our faith”, God does ask us to sacrifice plenty of other things (tithes, time, talents, presence, etc.), and doing so proves our faith.

PRAYER

Lord, give me ample opportunity to grow in my faith, so that my faith may witness to you.